SPH researchers are currently involved in the Minnesota NET-Works (Now Everybody Together for Amazing and Healthful Kids) study, an obesity prevention initiative designed to create sustainable change in dietary patterns and physical activity levels among children, particularly those from low income, racially diverse populations most vulnerable to childhood obesity. More than 500 preschool-age children (2-4 years) are taking part in the study along with their parents or primary-caregivers.
Creating sustainable change
NET-Works differs significantly from previous childhood obesity prevention studies in that it relies upon multi-site interventions and evaluations that take place over a three-year period. Home visits, community-based parenting classes and pediatric primary care visits were chosen by researchers as education and behavioral intervention sites because of their convenience and potential for long-term sustainability.
“We wanted to reach out and meet families in settings where they already live their lives,” says Simone French. “When it’s something that parents already do, that’s a reduced barrier. We chose [interventions] to be embedded in infrastructures that are already there. For example, parent education classes have been going on for decades. That’s a setting where a program like this could continue to be implemented and supported [beyond the time frame of the study].”
French, a professor in the Division of Epidemiology and director of the Obesity Prevention Center, is co-leader of the study with Nancy Sherwood, adjunct associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the School of Public Health and senior research investigator at HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research. NET-Works is one of four studies within the NIH-funded Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment Research Consortium. Funding for NET-Works began in 2010 and the study continues until 2017, when data collection and analysis will be complete.
Breaking barriers and building relationships
NET-Works researchers developed parenting education and home visiting curricula that teach and facilitate the connectedness between parenting skills, childhood development and the ability to create positive behavioral changes. Goal setting plays a vital role in helping families work towards behavioral targets defined by the study. “So far people are responding to what we’re facilitating. Families involved have set nearly 280 goals, primarily in healthy eating, physical activity and TV viewing,” says Sara Veblen-Mortenson, NET-Works project director.
Cultural fit and relationship building are also key components of NET-Works. Nearly half of all enrollees are identified as Hispanic. To decrease language barriers that may hinder participation, all components of the study are available in both Spanish and English. The study also matches participants with bilingual family home connectors, individuals who work closely with families to educate, set goals and provide support. “Each family is different,” says French. “Home visits and the family connector can make the guidelines really fit into the family’s own situation to make sure that it’s working for them.”
More information about the study, its goals and methodology is available in the recent article published in Contemporary Clinical Trials.